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Africa CDC says continent on high alert for Covid-19
John Nkengasong (PhD), Director of Africa CDC

Africa CDC says continent on high alert for Covid-19

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) headquartered at the African Union (AU) said the continent is on a high alert to deter the potential arrival of covid-19, The Reporter has learnt. The explosive spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has infected more than 75,000 people and killed more than 2,000.

In an exclusive interview with The Reporter, John Nkengasong (PhD), director of Africa CDC, said as of last week, Africa has reported one case in Egypt. Apart from that no new cases of infections have been reported, the director said.

Following the outbreak in Wuhan, China in Hubei Province in December, Africa CDC has been able to aggressively prepare countries on how to prevent incidents. So far, 16 countries have received diagnostics and by the end of this week, 20 more will receive diagnostic equipment’s and kits.

According to Nkengasong, 10,000 testing equipment’s were distributed to the countries. Apart from working with countries and health institutions, Africa CDC is closely working with airlines and airports. Trainings are provided on how to prevent infectious and viral diseases as well. “We have done four major activities. We have done laboratory preparedness, airports screenings, and infection control and risk communications.”

It is to be recalled that two years ago, West Africa was heavily hit by the Ebola virus outbreak that caused the deaths of 11,000 victims. One of the factors that contributed for the quick transmission was poor readiness, decrepit healthcare systems and facilities. These had exacerbated the spread of the Ebola outbreak. This time around, many fear that covid-19 will test Africa. “For that, currently Africa as a continent is well prepared, and Africa CDC is following up on each country’s status with regards to readiness,” Nkengasong said. Common external evaluation mechanisms have been established under the global health security in collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO) and the like.

However, fear for a sudden eruption of the Covid-19 in Africa worries many including President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, who has even urged Ethiopian Airlines to consider withdrawing its flights to China. Adding to such fears, according to Tedros Adhanom (PhD), director general of WHO, until Thursday, in China alone, there were 74,675 confirmed cases and 2,121 deaths from covid-19, majority of the cases and deaths being in Wuhan.

Asked if Africa is prepared for the worst to come? Nkengasong said that science based actions not reactions, the spread of facts not fears and an active fight against misinformation, help to be better prepared even psychologically. In addition to that, based on the guidance of the WHO, restrictions on the movements of people and trading activities is not encouraged. The Africa CDC chief advises airlines to be more transparent, setup and follow a rigorous checkups and detection systems around airports and environs.

When talking about Ethiopia’s airport facilities and detection mechanisms to test Covid-19, Nkengasong said: “I am proud to say that I’m very pleased with what I saw and with the whole process and the isolation hospital that is set away from the airport.”

Addis Ababa being the third international diplomatic city and serving as a hub for major UN and other international agencies, Covid-19 poses a serious concern. Nkengasong agrees with such claims and parsed the works of the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, and Africa CDC; he said, is providing every support required as does the WHO.

“You can be rest assured that we are factoring out everything and health security is our responsibility to protect anybody not just a diplomat. During the recently held African Union ordinary summit, heads of state and governments were obliged to be screened and checked for the Covid-19,” said Nkengasong.

According to Africa CDC chief, population growth, the ever changing dynamics of ecosystems and the high rate of movement of people coupled with urbanization, and climate change, are fueling factors for the quick spread of the disease.

The erratic conflicts in Africa are making immunizations even more difficult. Add to that, developing the vaccine and other clinical treatments will take more than one year to cure Covid-19 victims, said Nkengasong. These factors make Africa more vulnerable for the spread of the virus.

Briefing reporters on Thursday, the WHO director and his team noted that, Covid-19 has made its way to 26 countries. There are 1,076 cases worldwide and half of those are the passengers of Diamond Prince Cruise Ship, docked at Yokohama, Japan for several days.

Despite China kept on reporting the declining rates of new incidents, more cluster of cases are appearing in countries other than China. Tedros reported that so far, 13 countries have issued travel bans to and from China.